There have been a lot of discussions lately about how violence in the newly released Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery series’ are outweighing what has been depicted in the franchise previously. But, is it really so?
When pondering this question, a few things come to mind. Such as Star Trek: Nemesis, where Shinzon pulls a large pipe through his own abdomen. Or in Star Trek: The Next Generation, where Picard endured extended torture at the hands of the Cardassians. Most fans don’t seem to be bothered by these violent acts. However, when poor Icheb screams in agony while his eye is being cut off without anesthesia in Star Trek: Picard, the negative fan reaction was swift and widespread.
It makes me wonder: Can violence communicated with a different shade, independent of the look of the viewer, generate different reactions?
Is It Really So?
It’s true that in “old” Star Trek someone occasionally gets vaporized, there are plenty of hard punches, blood, fire, and even explosions. However, this violence is moderated and almost stylized too a certain degree.
In the sixties, the original Star Trek series promoted itself as a future where humans and other alien species lived in peace and harmony among equals. It is stated that violence should always be reluctantly exercised and only as a last option of defense. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise there are very few fights among members of the Federation. While Deep Space Nine did push the envelope on interpersonal conflict, it still managed to keep the primary focus on external threats.
However, regardless of how the main cast interacted with each other, conflict, and violence played a very important role in all previous series’ and movies. So why is it an issue now?
The Importance Of Framing, Ratings…
One of the biggest differences between “old” and “new” Star Trek is the advent of streaming technology. All previous iterations of the franchise were subject to TV and Motion Picture rating guidelines. In an effort to reach the widest possible audience, most Star Trek productions are either rated PG or G (US). Only a handful of episodes and movies are rated anything higher, and even those are sitting at PG-13.
How did they do this? Massive effort was put into framing the franchise as family-friendly and specifically riding the line between “moderate” and “intense” violence. By de-emphasizing the violence, reducing its frequency, and keeping the show’s narrative focused on the storyline, you can ensure a lower rating on your production.
The Next Generation Episode ‘The Minds Eye’ sees Geordie LaForge tortured relentlessly by his Romulan captives. There’s even a sequence where a device attached to his optical nerve inflicts great pain and causes him to scream out. So, beyond the use of blood, what’s the big difference between this scene and Icheb’s death?
It’s framing. We know exactly what’s causing Icheb’s pain. However, we don’t know what is causing LaForge to scream out, what kind of pain this device is doing to him, or where exactly the pain is localized too.
…And Focus Areas!
The emphasis is put on the fact that LaForge is being tortured, not necessarily the torture itself.
In Picard the production team wants the focus to be on both. This change in framing styles is a simple example of the differences between “new” vs “old” Star Trek.
It’s important to note that the rating system isn’t an exact science. Production teams are often forced to make mico-edits to ensure the lowest rating possible. However, Picard and Discovery have free reign to decide just how much violence they want to fit into their narrative. Without worrying themselves about framing the shows for censors or prime-time television slots.
Star Trek: Beyond Canon
“New” Star Trek is meant to be an adult depiction of the franchise. There’s murder, swearing, lying, altercations, sex, cannibalism, torture chambers and even decapitations of minors. Perhaps the question you need to be asking yourself is: Do you want a more adult-focused Star Trek production?
So, You Think That Star Trek…
Beyond Star Trek’s canon and lively debates about how close it is to true Star Trek spirit… Is Star Trek: Picard trying to be bold, to change parameters to adjust to new ways of enjoying a story? Or is it only a question of bad scriptwriting?
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